Rooting for Ecosystem Services

This project will leverage multi-disciplinary expertise and farmer feedback to identify and evaluate traits associated with ecosystem services provided by organic grain production systems.

A three-pronged approach will:

1) Develop a region-specific ideotype for maize roots suitable for organic production. We argue that cultivars with a high degree of plasticity will be better fit for organic systems.

2) Evaluate traits associated with ecosystem services and increase our understanding on how to manage the rhizosphere to optimize C storage, resource use efficiency and productivity. We argue that integrative soil traits can predict root response and be related to ecosystem provision.

3) Understand how farmers can incorporate knowledge on crop and soil traits through planning to optimize cropping system functions. We assume only farm relevant solutions should be prioritized by systems-based breeding efforts.

A bioinformatics survey of maize genes associated with phenotypes with potential to serve as ecosystem service proxies will be used to identify and generate root ideotypes that perform well in variable soil environments.

Experimental work will be carried out on the Illinois Organic Systems Trial and Organic Nursery to gain an understanding of the range of root responses possible and relate root traits to ecosystem services,

Mental models of farmer’s goals and constraints will be used to increase awareness and appreciation for the value of root traits among farmers and to prioritize trait development for on-farm strip trials.

Results will provide the basis for rotation planning and management and orient systems-based breeding efforts in the Midwest